No need for a federal commission

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

The Los Angeles Times recently reported on significant problems with the California State Athletic Commission's regulation of boxing and mixed martial arts.

A lengthy investigation by the newspaper revealed that, among many other grievances, state authorities routinely approved mismatches; didn't follow proper medical procedures; allowed a fighter to compete without having had an HIV blood screening; and failed to prevent boxers who were under state-issued suspensions from fighting.

None of it – and there was plenty more in the Times' report – can be surprising to those who are close to boxing.

The fight game is poorly regulated around the country, with loose adherence to the rules and overworked and underfunded commission staff barely able to handle the workload. Obviously, something needs to be done; but in an age when governors are being forced to slash essential services, the last thing they're going to do is increase spending on boxing and mixed martial-arts regulation.

Proponents of a federal boxing commission are sure to point to the Times' investigation as yet another reason why a federal commission should be created to regulate combat sports.

Yet it's the very problems the Times detailed in its Sept. 25 report by Lance Pugmire which would be exacerbated by the creation of a federal commission.

Pugmire quotes several promoters who speak of instances in which ringside physicians and/or judges fail to show for planned cards. Promoter Alex Camponovo told Pugmire that 11 of 14 fighters on a Sept. 11 card had their physicals done three hours before the first bell, even though state regulations require that the physical be done the day prior to the fight.

The state's then-interim executive officer, David Thornton, wrote a July 22 letter in which he warned that a fighter who had not been HIV-tested prior to a March 7 MMA fight card in Tulare, Calif., had Hepatitis C. It turned out that the Hepatitis C was a "false positive," according to Thornton, but the fact remains that the fighter was allowed to fight despite not submitting to the mandatory prefight HIV blood test.

If individual states are overwhelmed with shows, imagine what it would be like if it was a federal commission's job to stay on top of things.

The raison d'être for a state athletic commission is to protect the safety of the fighters, to collect revenue due the state and to ensure fair matches.

Yet state after state fails at this basic responsibility – though they always collect the monies due the state – simply because there is far too much work for far too few people.

There are legendary stories of fighters who compete under assumed names to escape detection by state regulators. The Times article documents an instance in which one fighter who didn't have the basic skills was allowed to fight not once but twice in two months.

In an e-mail to the Times, former state inspector Dean Lohuis wrote that a referee told him: "In my 12 years of doing this, this was the worst mismatch I'd ever seen. He stood there eating jabs and did not even have the basic skills."

Not all fights pit stars such as Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto against each other. The vast majority of cards held include fighters who are virtual unknowns to all but the most dedicated followers of the sports.

These cards are particularly troublesome because they're the type in which the potential for a mismatch is greatest. If Pacquiao, say, were paired with a totally unqualified opponent, there would be howls or protest from fans and media literally from around the world.

But few would complain about a mismatch on a low-profile card in a small city dotted with unrecognizable names – largely because few, if any, would be aware of the mismatch's existence.

Take the problems existing for states now, multiply them by 50, and imagine the crush a federal commission would be under.

The size of the bureaucracy that would have to be created to handle the workload would be massive. And with the country facing trillions of dollars of debt, it wouldn't in any sense be cost-effective.

California, though, isn't the only state with problems regulating boxing and MMA. It's just the only state with a newspaper such as the Times which still has a fight writer and is willing to devote the resources to investigating commission shortcomings.

I know of one well-known trainer who once posed as a cardiologist to make certain his fighter was not medically declined by the overwhelmed doctor in charge of one fight card.

Trainers and managers will often do just about anything to trick the commissions into letting their fighters compete. No one gets paid if the fighter doesn't fight, so corners are often cut.

The problem needs to be solved, but it should be solved at the state level. There is no easy solution, with no additional funding in the offing and an increase in shows likely due to the growing popularity of MMA.

Communication between regulators in states is a must. Officials in each state should be more diligent about sharing information with others in order to prevent abuse.

Antonio Margarito was caught at the last moment by the sharp eye of trainer Naazim Richardson with a hard, plaster-like substance in his hand wraps prior to a Jan. 24 fight with Shane Mosley in Los Angeles.

Inspector Che Guevara of the California State Athletic Commission had inspected Margarito's wraps and deemed them all right until Richardson objected.

California ought to be certain to share its findings with other states – such as where the illegal knuckle pad was placed – so that inspectors in those states will be more attuned to the tricks a rogue trainer or fighter may pull.

A seemingly small mistake in fight regulation can have dire consequences. As with steroids testing, cheaters will continue to seek ways to stay a step ahead of the law.

The state of boxing and MMA regulation is largely poor, but it's nothing that will be fixed by bringing in the federal government.

Something needs to be done to prevent a disaster, but the money simply isn't there to prevent it. Sadly, making the problem federal would only make it worse.